Dave Montgomery Austin Correspondent
Civic Leader Libby Willis secured the Democratic nomination for the senatorial seat being vacated by Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis Tuesday night while Konni Burton and Mark Shelton advanced to a May 27 run-off as the top vote-getters in the Republican primary. The battle for Senate District 10, which Davis wrested from a Republican incumbent in 2008, is expected to become one of the hottest races in the fall, with Republicans scrambling to take back the district and Democrats fighting to keep it.
Willis, who has worked closely with Davis on Fort Worth civic issues and praises her performance in the Senate, defeated businessman Mike Martinez by a vote of 56 percent to 44 percent. Burton, one of the few candidates in Texas to secure an endorsement from U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, led a five-way Republican field with 43 percent of the vote. Shelton, a former state representative who ran unsuccessfully against Davis in her 2012 re-election bid, polled 35 percent. Arlington school trustee Tony Pompa was third with 12.5 percent. Colleyville real estate executive Mark Skinner had 6 percent and Colleyville chiropractor Jon Schweitzer trailed with 3 percent. The race in some respects was a referendum on Davis’ two terms in office, with the two Democrats promising to build on her achievements while Republicans championed a return to conservative principles that they said was more in line with the wishes of district voters. SD10, which covers the lower half of Tarrant County and juts northward into Republican strongholds such as Colleyville and Southlake, is considered a swing district that leans Republican even though Democratic-inclined minorities compose more than half the population. A Republican victory in the pivotal Metroplex district would move the party within one vote of a super-majority in the 31-member Senate.
Willis, the daughter-in-law of the late State Rep. Doyle Willis, was endorsed by five former chairmen of the Tarrant County Democratic party and was generally perceived as the Democratic front-runner. She is a professional in urban and economic revitalization and formerly served as president of the Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods. Interviewed at her victory party at an east Fort Worth restaurant, Willis, 54, said she planned to be “out in the neighborhoods” trumpeting campaign themes that include improving education, equal pay for women and in-home care for seniors. “The working families of SD10 – that’s what this is all about,” Willis said. District 10 voters,she said, are more interested in “someone who’s got neighborhood level common-sense solutions…than they are in ideological extremists. They don’t want divisiveness. They want someone who can go to work from day one for their issues.” Burton, a North Texas tea party leader, credited her commanding lead over Shelton in part to her support from tea party groups. Cruz, a tea party darling who is being touted as a potential president candidate, praised the 50-year-old Colleyville resident as “a strong principled conservative” who helped him win the 2012 Senate run-off.
“I’m a grassroots conservative,” she said Tuesday night. “I consider this a win for grassroots conservatives.” Shelton, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, had strong name identification from his 2012 race against Davis as well as his service in the Texas House. A long list of endorsements includes support from Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and former U.S. Defense Secretary Gordon England.